Dear friends and customers of North Mountain Pastures,
If you are trying to decide whether or not you want to do the Meat CSA for next season, we wanted to share a few concepts with you that will help you to understand what it is we are trying to do, and why.
There is a growing quantity of healthy, organic, and loal choices available at Wegman's, Trader Joe's, Whole foods, and many local health food stores. This is tremendously good news, which we shop from all the time, and hope that one day our sausages will be available in these stores! Until that is possible, we want to point out some differences between North Mountain Pastures products and those showcased in your high-end grocery store, as well as let you know how the CSA is different.
First - We GET IT. It is nice to be able to stop by the store and choose your own cut of something for dinner. There is not nearly as much control over what you get in a CSA mixed bag of meat, or even a bulk purchased half cow. Sometimes you have just run out or need something for a special occasion. We are not trying to guilt anyone into feeling as though they have to eat 100% perfectly (as if that were possible!) all of the time. Doing the best you can is always good enough.
Second - We don't actually see farmer's markets and CSAs as the future of local food. Surprised? While we aren't lucky enough to have a crystal ball, our opinion is that the current existing grocery store and associated distribution chain could be a reasonable way for more farmers to sell appropriately produced food, and more people to eat good food, which is our ultimate goal. All types of people in all locations will simply not have access to buy directly from a farm. We are hopeful for continued widespread positive change in our food system that will make it less alternative and frankly, hard for both producer and consumer to manage the selling and purchasing of good food grown in small, organic, pasture-based systems. In that sense, Wegman's and Giant and small privately owned artisanal shops are all part of our vision for the future.
What differentiates our products from meats/eggs you can buy at Wegman's?
Although Wegman's is a great supporter and buyer of local organically raised produce, their meat department is currently, in our opinion. Due to complicated meat regulations and inspections requirements, as well as supply issues, they are not yet able to buy animal products from growers that raise pork and poultry on pasture.
"Locally grown", and even "organic" beef at Wegman's may or may not be 100% grassfed, and is generally local only to the East coast. "It is important to remember that grassfed is not the same as organic. While organic beef comes from animals that were probably fed less grain than the industry norm, organic animals will typically still spend their last months in feedlots where they are fed grain before slaughter. Even if the grain is produced organically, we know that feeding large amounts of grain to ruminant animals can result in many health and welfare problems. While the banning of antibiotic treatment under the organic standards means that there is a real risk that some of these health and welfare problems will go untreated, we also know that cattle raised on grass will immediately begin losing the health benefits when they are fed grain." (Read more in The Grassfed Primer)
There is "local" pork, which is raised in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) throughout the mid-atlantic region. These pigs may be antibiotic-free, and even fed organic feed in the case of certified organic pork from Canada that is available at some locations. However, to our knowledge, there is no pork being sold that is raised naturally outdoors, in woods or pasture. If we had to pick one food that would be the most important to buy pasture-raised, it would be pork. This is important for both animal welfare reasons as well as the nutrition advantages to us from eating pastured pork and pork lard from animals eating fresh grass in sunlight that give the meat more nutrients like vitamin D, and are also free of toxins that accumulate in animal fats.
The cured meat products (sausage, bacon, salami, etc.) at Wegman's are of very high quality in terms of being gourmet and sometimes even all natural products. However, again, even the sausages that are nitrate-free, are made with factory farmed conventional pork.
Cage-free, free-range, antibiotic-free, and organic eggs are great step in the right direction. But one taste of the bright yellow/orange rich-flavored yolks of pasture-raised eggs will be an eye-opener and will most likely make you unable to go back to store bought eggs, even organic.
Organic chicken and chicken products at Wegman's are certified organic, meaning that they are fed non-GMO and chemical free grains, along with being raised according to organic standards (no antibiotics or harmful chemicals used in processing). While this is undoubtedly a huge step above regular grocery store chicken, these chickens are still factory farmed in huge chicken houses. It is legal to use terms like "free range", "pastured", and "cage free" on packaging of chickens that are raised in a chicken warehouse with a small concrete pad that extends outside. Buying this type of chicken supports the organic movement and trends towards the availability of food containing less toxins and a much needed move away from dependence on antibiotics. There is a bigger issue, however, than the fact that your personal intake of this chicken is not raised on pasture, with the associated nutrition benefits. It doesn't change the underlying problems of our food system: large commercial farms providing for the masses. Pasture-raised chicken comes from diversified, small, local farms. This is the future of sustainable agriculture and food production that can feed the world: many more, smaller, farms in all locations. I am not suggesting that these organic factory farms should not exist - we currently need them to feed so many people. We just believe that more and different types of farms will give our food system a strong healthy foundation and resilience.
To be clear, we are thankful that there are growing opportunities for all of us to purchase healthy, delicious, and locally grown foods. We hope that Wegman's continues supporting locally grown food and can continue having a huge role in changing the food system for the better by buying from a variety of sustainable and GMO-free producers. Just like all of you.
Join the Meat CSA for February - June 2017 here. There is one week left to sign up before the start of the next season in February.
Thanks as always for buying local foods!
~Brooks & Anna
Other Helpful Resources:
Nutritional differences between pasture raised chickens and not, including definitions of USDA labeling
Health Benefits of Pasture-raised chickens
Penn State Research on eggs from pasture-raised chickens being more nutritious
Grass-fed animals result in good fats and quality protein
Rodale's Organic Life - 10 Reasons why you should never buy conventional pork
Sign up for the CSA